Today we’ve got the preview for the Central Division, by far the strongest division in the West. Ladies, the countdown to the regular season is on! Is it Thursday yet?
In 2008-2009…The Hawks finished with 104 points, 2nd in the Central Division, and 4th in the West. Last seen: guaranteeing a losing effort in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
This season…The Blackhawks need to forget about the success of last season and the controversy of this past off-season. After losing leading point producer Martin Havlat to the Wild (and then enduring the ugly Twitter battle that followed), the Blackhawks rebounded by signing perennial Stanley Cup runner-up Marian Hossa. Sound like a good deal? Not so fast. The Hawks signed Hossa before he completed his physical, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal. Well, except for this time. Hossa is out for the first two months of the season after the physical revealed he needed shoulder surgery.
Hossa’s shoulder isn’t the only injury plaguing the Blackhawks this season. Adam Burish tore his ACL in a preseason game against Minnesota and is out for six months. But let’s not forget the top notch talent they have in captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg. They also picked up John Madden from the Devils. The blue line is looking pretty decent with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith leading the way. The goalie situation is a bit iffy, though. The departure of Nikolai Khabibulin leaves Cristobal Huet as the clear no. 1 in Chi-town. If the Blackhawks were a soap opera, I’d be watching on a fairly daily basis. Definitely keep an eye on the Hawks this season.
Hottie worth watching: Patrick Sharp. I do remember a comment many moons ago about more Patrick Sharp in a suit. So to whoever that was, here’s your photo!
Detroit Red Wings
In 2008-2009…The Wings finished with 112 points, 1st in the Central Division, and 2nd in the West. Last seen: watching the Penguins skate around The Joe holding a pretty significant chalice.
This season…The Red Wings need to just keep doing what they’re doing. They lose Marian Hossa, the team’s leading goal scorer from last season. They also lose quite a handful of European players like Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky and Mikael Samuelsson. They added some North Americans in Patrick Eaves, Todd Bertuzzi and Jason Williams. Not exactly an upgrade. Of course, they keep their core intact with the return of Mr. Lady Byng Pavel Datsyuk and the other King Henry – Henrik Zetterberg.
Chris Osgood returns as the top goaltender after losing Ty Conklin. Osgood was shaky last season, but seemed to work things out in the final stretch of the season. The Wings will have to hope that he remains solid.
Hottie worth watching: Patrick Eaves. I swear I jinxed Patrick the last time I featured him on the blog because he was literally traded the next day. Then the Bruins bought out his contract so he was a free agent with no team. Enter the Red Wings. Hopefully I don’t jinx him this time.
St. Louis Blues
In 2008-2009…The Blues finished with 92 points, 4th in the Central Division and 6th in the West. Last seen: overcoming a serious amount of injuries just to get swept by the Canucks in the first round of the playoffs.
This season…The Blues should be fairly confident. They get back a lot of the guys they lost to injury last season, including Erik Johnson, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald and Jay McKee. They’ve got there own super goalie named Mason – Chris Mason, that is. After Manny Legace fell out of grace last year, Chris took over and posted a 27-21-7 record and six shutouts. The Blues also added some goalie insurance by signing Ty Conklin away from Detroit. Andy Murray’s troops should be good to go this season, and I expect good things from them.
Hottie worth watching: David Backes. Sorry, I just cannot deny this man’s hotness.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In 2008-2009…The Jackets finished with 92 points, 4th in the Central Division and 7th in the West. Last seen: making the franchise’s first playoff appearance, and then departure, against the Red Wings.
This season…Keep your eyes on Steve Mason. The super rookie walked away with the Calder, and if it wasn’t for Tim Thomas, he probably would have stolen the Vezina, as well. Last season’s playoff appearance helped Rick Nash emerge from NHL obscurity. Now that the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus have had a taste of the playoffs, they are going to be expected to go a bit further this year. Let’s just hope the post-playoff hangover doesn’t affect this team. They need the youth that they’ve been developing in the minors to help this team continue its success.
Hottie worth watching: Derick Brassard. Yes, I know he’s a baby, but he’s cute!
In 2008-2009…The Predators finished with 88 points, 5th in the Central and 10th in the West. Last seen: coming oh-so-close (3 pts, actually) to making the playoffs, but finishing a tad bit short.
This season…The Preds are hoping to not repeat what happened last year. After four straight playoff appearances, the Predators could not seal the deal in the final games and finished three points out of 8th place in the West. Since it’s pretty unlikely that all five teams in one division make the playoffs, Nashville may be the odd man out. The Preds are backed by another super rookie goalie in Pekka Rinne. Last season, Rinne ranked within the top 10 of all NHL netminders in save percentage, shutouts and goals-against average.
Despite the youth movement in the NHL, the Predators have a trio of “old guys” up front: Steve Sullivan, 35, Jason Arnott, 34, and J.P. Dumont, 31. But just because they’re old in NHL years, doesn’t mean anyone should sleep on these “old” guys. If they keep their production up, and the youngsters provide secondary scoring, the Preds just might find themselves back in the playoffs.
Hottie worth watching: Ryan Suter. Who can resist a man with a guitar?
So there’s our take on the Central Division. Let us know how wrong, right and/or awesome we are in the comments.